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Shamsher Singh: Hartosh Bal's Defence Of KPS Gill Is A Defence Of Systemic Indian State Violence
KPS Gill personifies systematic indian state violence in such a profound way that Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra named Gill the ‘Chief of Oppression’.
April 23, 2021 | 4 min. read
In 2017 Hartosh Bal, Political Editor for The Caravan, wrote an article in The Scroll defending his maternal uncle KPS Gill, the now-deceased former Director General of Police (DGP) in Punjab, the highest-ranking police officer in a state or territory claimed by india.
The Caravan and The Scroll, as well as The Quint, News Laundry, The Wire, and some others, are positioned ostensibly as impartial indian new publications with progressive politics. Primary amongst these is The Caravan which has built a reputation for being critical of indian fascism, Hindutuva, and as defenders of human rights.
The article Hartosh Bal wrote for The Scroll is controversial not only because of Bal’s personal bias but because of his attempt to defend Gill. The controversy of defending Gill was reignited when an event Bal was invited to speak at was cancelled due to push back from the local UBC Sikh Student Society. The SFU Sikhs Student’s Association has also now expressed concerns over a separate SFU Institute for the Humanities webinar planned with Bal for April 26.
Bal’s defence of KPS Gil was termed the ‘rehabilitation of KPS Gill’ by the Khalra Mission Organisation in response to an article from The Straight, which deserves a response in its own right, as does nearly everything produced by academia and the media that covers Sikh resistance in Punjab.
Since the Kisaan Morcha erupted Hartosh Bal and The Caravan have capitalised on an image of integrity, gaining increasing acceptance for their supposed impartiality. To be fair to The Caravan, they do speak up against the indian government, but like all liberal indian publications, their sympathy stops when the territorial sovereignty of india is challenged, especially and particularly, when that challenge is from Sikhi/Sikhs.
There is a long-standing and continuing refusal to comprehend the discourse and politics from the Sikh grassroots on what Khalistan means, what the struggle represents for the Guru-Panth, and how radical Sikh politics views the colonial project that is india.
Nowhere is this refusal more visible than in the positioning of Hartosh Bal. In his analysis of the Kisaan Morcha he makes space to malign Khalistan playing into the far too easily available rhetoric of ‘destabilising Sikh terrorism’ that the indian state has successfully upheld through its violent policies, confining us to ‘loyal citizens’ (Kisaan/Jawaan) or terrorists that need to be eliminated through genocide.
The impact of the success of india’s securitisation policies is visible in the slogan adopted by Kisaan themselves: “We are farmers, not terrorists”, trying to meet the impossible demand india places on its minorities to prove their loyalty in a perverse game of hyper-nationalism.
In response to the attempted rehabilitation of KPS Gill, and to address the erasure/demonisation of Khalistan, NSYF wrote a detailed response to Hartosh Bal. We assumed this article would be relevant to The Caravan and we wanted to see if The Caravan was genuinely interested in critical analysis that challenges state violence. We were told that The Caravan would simply ignore us, but we found this unlikely as NSYF has been featured in indian media many times, including The Caravan, in a deeply flawed and racist editorial on Sikhs as a sinister model minority. The Caravan dragged their feet, and after chasing them up, they eventually refused to publish our response, and refused our offer to publicly debate Hartosh Bal.
The Caravan is one of the few outlets that take an opposing position to most mainstream indian narratives, however when it comes to Sikh bodies in Punjab, much like the entire spectrum of indian media, there is no space for serious conversation that rejects the framing of Sikh resistance as terrorism. These key indian state narratives proliferate indian media; “flush out the terrorists”, “occupying the golden temple”, “Sikh extremism”, “Khalistan terrorism” are all consistently repeated definitions that are so deeply embedded and completely normalised that they find currency and acceptance amongst Sikhs.
We know that large swathes of indian media are an extension of the state and that the indian state actively engages in manipulation and disinformation. An entire global network of state-linked media was exposed in a report from the EU DisInfo Lab. The BJP’s manipulation on social media platforms like Twitter is well documented, as is indian censorship, police torture and rape, arrests of journalists, and state violence against dissent. This environment of state terror is as visible today in the Kisaan Morcha, and is the environment within which Sikh resistance has always existed.
KPS Gill personifies systematic indian state violence in such a profound way that Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra named Gill the ‘Chief of Oppression’. In supporting Hartosh Bal, The Caravan has shown their acceptance of his views and by extension his view of KPS. Bal makes the argument that Gill alone cannot be “singled out”, that torture is a widespread practice and Gill was the same, if not better, than the other murders in uniform that preceded and followed him, and Bal makes it clear that this is the price for “peace”.
We have decided to publish our response to Hartosh Bal in full on the NSYF blog and we urge you all to read and share so we can have a clear understanding of the arguments that are commonly used to justify state violence against Sikhs and decontextulise our resistance. We are also reaching out to Sikh organisations that work in this field to organise a campaign highlighting the reality of KPS, the support for Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra and his work, and to push back against the demonisation of Sikh resistance.
Shamsher Singh writes from Southall, UK, and is the co-founder of the National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF). He is an influential Sikh activist and his work centres on Sikh being and Khalistan. As a naujawan Panthic jathebandie NSYFs work has featured in national and international media, documentary films, books, and academic papers. You can find Shamsher on Twitter at @anandpur_exile
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